The King of Fighters '96 is a 1996 fighting game released by SNK for the Neo Geo arcade and home consoles. It is the third game in The King of Fighters series, following The King of Fighters '95. Like its predecessor, the game was ported to the Neo-Geo CD, as well as the PlayStation and Sega Saturn. Unlike the previous game, the PlayStation and Saturn versions were released only in Japan, with a language setting allowing the player to set the game to English. It is also part of the compilation The King of Fighters Collection: The Orochi Saga for the PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable and Wii.
The game made a few changes to gameplay such as new techniques, various changes of some teams, with a few of them introducing new characters. The plot follows a new King of Fighters tournament created by Chizuru Kagura, the heir of Yata Clan who wants to find and recruit Kyo Kusanagi: the one who defeated the previous KOF host, Rugal Bernstein, to ask him and his bitter rival, Iori Yagami to help her in the sealing of the Orochi demon. The new boss is one of the servants from Orochi, Goenitz, who appears after Chizuru is defeated.
SNK members had various troubles with the development of the game as they were dragged on right up to the time of its scheduled release. This happened since developers had diffulties with making the sprites and special moves of new characters from the game. The game has had mixed reviews from several video games publications. While some reviewers have praised the graphical improvements and the addition of new characters, some have commented it was unbalanced in comparison to its prequels.
KOF '96 made a few slight changes to the gameplay of previous KOF games by introducing new techniques. The Dodge technique from the previous two game is replaced by an "emergency evasion" or "attack deflector" technique, which allows the player's character to roll away or towards the opponent. In the latter case, the player can have the ability to roll towards the opponent and end up at the other side. The player can also determine the height of their jump and perform small or high jumps. Additionally, the graphics for all the character sprites from the previous games were redrawn and the commands for certain Special and Super moves were changed from previous games. Like in the previous, Super Special Moves can be performed when the Power Gauge is filled up or when the player's life gauge is flashing red. However, the player can also perform a more powerful version of their regular Super move if both conditions are met (the player has low energy and Maximum level power gauge).
A new King of Fighters tournament was announced, though the letters of invitation sent out to the fighters were no longer sent by Rugal Bernstein. The letters also announced many changes, the first of which being a massive overhaul of the tournament's approach. During the time that had passed between the tournaments since the previous year, the King of Fighters tournament's fame had grown immensely, to the point that it turned into a major international event, which had not happened before. Huge corporations transformed the King of Fighters tournament into something widely televised, commercialized, and celebrated, drawing in many crowds from around the world. The tournament is now held by Chizuru Kagura: a descendant of the ancient Yata Clan responsible for sealing the Orochi demon along with the Kusanagi and Yasanaki clan (the clans from Kyo Kusanagi and Iori Yagami, respectively). Chizuru uses the tournament in hopes of finding and recruiting Kyo and Iori in order to stop the upcoming Orochi threat, but Kyo and Iori aren't exactly willing to work together on friendly terms.
The character roster underwent major changes since the previous game. The Rival Team was disbanded, with only Iori Yagami returning, while Heidern and Takuma Sakazaki retired from the tournament. Takuma's spot in the Art of Fighting Team was taken by his daughter Yuri Sakazaki, formerly with the Women Fighters Team. New characters introduced in this episode include Kasumi Todoh from Art of Fighting 3, who takes Yuri's place in the Women Fighters Team; Leona, who joins the Ikari Team in place of her mentor and adoptive father, Heidern; Mature and Vice, two of Rugal's assistants who join Iori Yagami as members of the new Yagami Team; and the Boss Team, composed of Geese Howard, Wolfgang Krauser, and Mr. Big, all villains from the Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting series. The new boss character is Goenitz, a servant from Orochi who wants to stop Chizuru's plans of sealing his master.
Fatal Fury Team
Art of Fighting Team
The period of development for KOF '96 dragged on right up to the time of its scheduled release. At the location test for the title, Mature and Vice were still not included in the games since the staff did not have enough time to completely design them. The addition of Kasumi Todoh to the cast was done since the game in which she starred, Art of Fighting 3, was released at the same time of KOF 96.[Geese Howard from Fatal Fury was first meant to appear in KOF '95 but developers abandoned this idea. When KOF '96 began development, the staff decided to make Geese become a playable character. The Boss Team in which he starred along with Mr. Big and Wolfang Krauser received "special treatment" such music for each of them (in comparison to other teams who only one), however, due to lack of time to balance them, some of their special moves removed. The sub-boss character, Chizuru Kagura, was the hardest one to create. Her pixelated image was completed in a month but the designer in charge of her often worked too much time. The game also meant to introduce Whip into the Ikari Team. However, due to Leona's introduction in the same team, developers had to wait until The King of Fighters '99 to add her to the cast
The original KOF '96 was released for Japanese arcades on July 30, 1996. A Neo Geo and Neo Geo CD versions were released on September 27, 1996 and October 25, 1996, respectively. The PlayStation port was released on September 4, 1997 and the Sega Saturn port on December 31, 1996. Unlike the previous game, the PlayStation and Saturn versions were released only in Japan, with a language setting allowing the player to set the game to English. The Saturn version requires a 1MB RAM cartridge in order to be played. A Saturn Best Collection version of the port was released on October 1, 1998. It was also compilated in The King of Fighters Collection: The Orochi Saga in 2008 for the PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable and Wii.
Like the previous game, a Game Boy game based on The King of Fighters '96 was released by Takara in Japan titled Nettō The King of Fighters '96 on August 8, 1997, and was released in Europe titled The King of Fighters: Heat of Battle in 1998. This version only includes 17 of the 29 characters in the original version. The Game Boy game features a secret code called "Carnage" mode, which allows the player's (including CPU) Power Gauge to be filled automatically without charging. This feature also enables the player to use powerful versions of their Super Special Moves and normal versions of Super Special Moves without having the player's health at a low rate. This mode can be activated by entering the code in Takara logo screen. Characters exclusive to the Game Boy version includes Orochi Iori and Orochi Leona from The King of Fighters '97, a stronger version of Chizuru Kagura, and Mr.Karate (Takuma's persona in the original Art of Fighting)
Neo Geo CD
An extensive database for game, titled The King of Fighters '96 Neo Geo Collection, was released on February 14, 1997 to promote the year's title. It was available only for the Neo Geo CD. The database included the game's intro, an interactive reenactment of the game's backstory, character profiles spoken by their voice actors, outtakes, an exclusive gallery section from the creators, a complete command list and a sound selection. A similar version of this game, The King of Fighters '96 Perfect File, was also released for Windows and Macintosh computers. This version was released on June 18, 1997 and included most of the features found in its predecessor.
The Neo Geo version of the game had an average of 75.00% based on only one review by GameRankings, while the GameBoy version received an average of 67.50%, based also on one review. The game received praise and criticism from video game publications, which commented on its new additions. 1UP.com noted the game to be unbalanced in comparison to its prequel such as noting the projectile attacks needed to be improved. However, they liked the additions of Vice and Mature and more character interaction such as the special introductions between related characters, custom endings and custom winposes. Chris Wigham from consoleob.com also found issues with projectile moves, as the fights were closer. However, he noted the graphics to have gone through a big improvement in comparison to KOF '95. Zentendo.com writer Chuck Allen praised the improvements of music and voice acting such as the announcer's voice which is "audible and understandable". He also praised the addition of new characters to the cast as well as the boss Goenitz, who is easier to defeat than Rugal Berstein from KOF '95. In a review from the compilation The King of Fighters Collection: The Orochi Saga, George Damidas from entdepot.com commented that KOF '96 should be the first game as he praised the graphical improvements and the new character appearing in the series. GameSpot noted its release along with the ones from Real Bout Fatal Fury, Samurai Shodown IV to have been the games from SNK that sold the most in 1996. During its release week, the Sega Saturn port of the game sold 109,752 copies in Japan. As of 2004, the sales went to 155,116.